By Mary Landsman

Getting stubborn adware and spyware off your PC takes time and persistence. However, you can take certain steps to make the process easier and more effective.

If your system is heavily infected, you’ll need access to a clean computer to download the necessary tools. If you don’t have a second computer, ask a friend to download the tools for you and burn them to a CD. If you plan to use a USB drive to transfer the downloaded files, make sure both your computer and your friend’s computer have autorun disabled.

Disconnect From the Internet

Close all open browser windows and applications (including email) and then disconnect your computer from the internet.

If you are connected to the internet using an ethernet cable, the easiest way to disconnect is to just remove the cable from your computer.

If you are connected via Wi-Fi, for Windows 10:

  • Enter “network connections” in the search and select “View network connections.” Identify the connection to disable.
  • Right-click the connection and select Disable/Enable.

For Windows 8:

  • Press the Windows key to launch the Start interface, and then type “wireless.”
  • Click Settings to view a list of wireless settings.
  • Click Turn wireless communication on or off.

Try a Standard Uninstall

A surprising number of applications labeled as adware and spyware have fully functioning uninstallers that will cleanly remove the program. Before moving on to more complex steps, start with the easiest route and check the Add/Remove Programs list in the Windows Control Panel. If the unwanted program is listed, highlight it and click the Remove button. After removing the adware or spyware using Control Panel’s Add/Remove Programs, reboot the computer. Reboot after the uninstall, even if you are not prompted to do so.

Scan Your Computer

After you’ve disconnected from the internet, removed any adware or spyware listed in Add/Remove Programs, and rebooted the computer, the next step is to run a full system scan using an up-to-date antivirus scanner. If your antivirus program allows it, run the scan in Safe Mode. If you don’t have antivirus installed, select from one of these top-rated antivirus scanners or from one of these free antivirus scanners. If prompted, allow the scanner to clean, quarantine, or delete as appropriate.

When you use an adware removal software, update the tool’s database of potential viruses before you begin; new viruses appear daily, and quality anti-adware tools provide updated support on a regular basis.

Use Spyware Removal, MalwareBytes, AdwCleaner, and Other Tools

Many good spyware removal tools are available free. Malwarebytes does a good job of removing scareware — rogue software that hijacks your computer and tries to scare you into purchasing “protection.” For the free download and usage instructions, visit Malwarebytes’ Anti-MalwareHitman Pro is another powerful program effective in detecting unwanted software and malware. AdwCleaner is free and maintains a large database of known adware.

Get Clear Access to the Problem

While scanning the system in Safe Mode is good practice, it may not be enough to thwart some malware. If the adware or spyware persists despite the above efforts, you’ll need to get access to the drive without allowing the adware or spyware to load. The most effective means to get clean access to the drive is to use a BartPE Bootable CD. Once you’ve booted to the BartPE CD, you can access the file manager, locate the installed antivirus and rescan the system. Or, locate the offending files and folders and manually delete them.

Undo the Residual Damage

After removing the active infestation, make sure the adware or spyware won’t simply reintegrate itself when the computer reconnects to the internet.

  • Before reconnecting, reset your browser start and home pages
  • Ensure your HOSTS file hasn’t been hijacked (see Protecting the HOSTS file)
  • Make sure undesirable websites haven’t been added to your Trusted Sites Zone

Prevent Adware and Spyware

To avoid future adware and spyware infections, be discriminating about what programs you install on your PC. If you see an offer for a program that seems too good to be true, research it first using your favorite search engine. Make sure your browser security is up to snuff, keep your system fully patched, and follow these adware and spyware prevention tips.